The Chronicle of Alfonso the Emperor

Glenn Edward Lipskey



[47] The Poem of Almería pertains to an extensive genre of Latin poetry of the Middle Ages in which the principal themes were liberty, religion and warfare. It represents what Amador de los Ríos titles the medieval "hymn of war" (1) so prevalent in Spain during the Reconquest. The recording of history during that epoch was not merely the writing down of events, but also the stimulation of Christian bravery and patriotism.

The 373 leonine hexameters of the fragmentary poem describe the preparations for the campaign against Almería while the Emperor's forces were being mobilized. The principal theme is the identification of the military leaders of the crusade. In essence it is a rhymed chronicle. In the final paragraph of Book II, the author declares that in order to avoid the tedium of prose, he will alter his form to poetry. Enrique Flórez believed that the poet's intent was solely the presentation of the Spanish commanders and not the narration of the conquest of Almería. (2)

The incompleteness of the work leads one to surmise that the victory itself was recounted in the final pages which are now missing according to the copyist of MS I. Moreover, in verse 287 the poet reports the taking of Andújar and adds that Almería will be brought down in like manner.

[48] The Latin heroic form and content identify the author with the medieval class of "juglares de péñola," who shared the poetic scene with those who composed their verses in the vernacular. The Crónica de Castilla, relating the wedding celebrations of the three daughters of Alfonso VI, designates the attendance of each class of artist: " otrosí fueron en aquellas bodas muchas maneras de yoglares ansí de boca como de peñola."

The heroic subject matter offered a logical opportunity to elevate the form of the chronicle to poetry. Moreover, the poet endeavored to sustain an epic motif by identifying the Christian chieftains with the celebrated figures of both classical and modern epic verse and also with the heroes of the Old Testament. In the fifth stanza Alfonso VII is compared with Charlemagne, and in verses 215 and 216, Alvar Fáñez is ranked with Roland and Oliver. Pedro Alfonso, the Asturian commander, is described as:

Pulcher ut Absalon, virtute potens quasi Sanson, instructisque bonis, documenta tenet Salomonis. (3)
One or the most significant passages of the poem is the allusion to Rodrigo Díaz, the Cid. From verses 220 to 225 a brief historical sketch of his heroism and fame is outlined. In the Latin poem dedicated specifically to the Cid, Carmen Campidoctoris, written around 1090, we find, classical references analogous to those in the Poem of Almería. In the first stanza of the Carmen Campidoctoris, the author introduces [49] his protagonist by citing the deeds of Paris, Pyrrhus and Aeneas. (4) In the final verses Rodrigo's merits transcend the valor of Paris and Hector:
Talibus armis ornatus et equo,
Paris vel Hector melioris illo,
nunquam fuerunt in Troiano bello,
sunt neque modo. (5)
In the Poem of Almería verse 220 identifies the Cid as "Ipse Rodericus, Meo Cidi saepe vocatus." (6) Jack Gibbs insists on the significance of this line as plausible documentary evidence of a vernacular poem dedicated to Rodrigo Díaz: "l'emploi des mots Meo Cidi pour désigner don Rodrigue est un témoignage incontestable que le poème sur ses exploits était en espagnol." (7)

Although he aspired to avoid monotony by resorting to poetry, the author did not realize his objective. Attempting to echo the erudition of classical verse, he most often falters in a series of wearisome pedantries. Flórez has judged the rhetorical style as "duro y áspero, como de poeta bárbaro y de boca de hierro." (8)

The leonine hexameters of the poem are marked by their extreme irregularity. The most salient inconsistency is the coincidence of the dactylic foot with proparoxytone words and spondaic and trochaic feet with paroxytone forms. In these instances one is led to question whether or not it is the accent of the quantitative meter that determines the rhyme. This metric anomaly was the result of the increasing [50] disappearance of quantity as a poetic factor and the growing importance of accented rhyme. The poet lacked the proficiency to compose correctly hexametric meter, and as such, Rodríguez Aniceto classified his verses as "lo más tosco e imperfeoto." (9)

In spite of the unsymmetrical form, the work is rich in documentary substance, notably the delineation of essential features of each kingdom of Spain. The most revealing is the portrait of the Castilians wherein their pride, wealth and distinction of language are specified:

Illorum lengua resonat quasi tympano tuba.
Sunt nimis elati, sunt divitiis dilatati.
Castellae vires per saecula fuere rebelles. (10)
Likewise León is characterized as the realm which held a position of sovereignty among the kingdoms of Spain:
Haec tenet Hispani totius culmina regni,
Regali cura scrutatur regia iura. (11)
The victory at Almería in 1147 was a significant but momentary triumph in the Reconquest. It rid the Mediterranean of a strategic seaport base of infidel pirates and also severed the line of communication between Granada and North Africa. Unfortunately, Christian supremacy of Almería lasted for only ten years. In 1157 the Almohades succeeded in reconquering the city, and the heroic efforts of the Emperor and his forces had been in vain.

The Poem of Almería is a work of little aesthetic value. [51] However, it deserves scrutiny because of its realistic presentation of a celebrated twelfth-century crusade. Jack Gibbs emphasizes its merit as a rare example of the primary stage in the genesis of the heroic poem. He contends that in the general classification of the medieval epic, a fragment such as this poem merits significant consideration. His judgment allows for the Poem of Almería to be considered an original or secondary source for a cantar de gesta in the vernacular. (12)

Notes for Chapter 4

1.José Amador de los Ríos, Historia crítica de la literatura española (Facsimile ed.; Madrid: Gredos, 1969), II, 191.

2.Flórez, España sagrada, XXI, 319.

3."He is handsome as Absalom, as strong as Samson, and he possesses the wisdom of Solomon." Poem of Almería, vv. 117-118.

4.Ramón Menéndez Pidal, ed., Carmen campidoctoris, in La España del Cid (Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1956), II, 880.

5."Outfitted with such arms and steed, he is better than Paris or Hector were in the Trojan war, and there is no one to equal him now." Carmen campidoctoris, vv. 125-128.

6."Rodrigo, often called 'My Cid'."

7.Jack Gibbs, "Quelques observationes sur le Poema de Almería," Studia Romanica, XIV (Winter, 1967), 76-81.

8.Flórez, España sagrada, XXI, 319.

9.Rodríguez Aniceto, p. 148.

10."The Castilian language resounds like a trumpet and a drum. They are very proud and ennobled by riches. The men of Castile were rebels for centuries." Poem of Almería, vv. 136-138.

11."This group [León] holds the highest place in the entire Spanish kingdom. It oversees the regal offices with noble bearing." Poem of Almería, vv. 68-69.

12.Gibbs, p. 80.